(Note; this article was first published in 12/18. It was updated and published in 9/20 because of its relevance today.)
Cardinal Bernard Law died on December 20, 2018, in Rome. His noble and successful career was disgraced by the fact that he ignored and enabled numerous priests to molest children during his long reign as Cardinal of Boston.
One of the victims of this abuse — and Law was found guilty of abetting his abuse — was Mark Kean, who was molested by Father John Geogham. Geogham had molested children from 1962 to 1993 and had been moved by the Boston church from parish to parish — perhaps after some therapy and rehabilitation — where he continued to work with children and where the parents had not been told about Kean’s past.
Law did not break any laws, because at the time Massachusetts’s law did not require the Church authorities to report priests who abused children. This law was repealed in 2002.
After 58 priests asked for Law’s resignation, he finally resigned.
(These priests – like all priests — had taken the oath to obey their direct superiors. The Church is a spiritual monarchy – with the Pope (the earthly king) as Jesus’ representative on earth. Jesus, who is the king of kings, is the Pope’s king, and the authority to whom the Pope has sworn obedience. All the Church leaders have sworn obedience to the superiors, and the Pope is the top superior.)
After resigning, Law went to Rome where he continued to be an influential and respected Cardinal, under Pope John II. (This wouldn’t happen today.) This shows the possible involvement in the scandal of the Church all the way up to the top. Perhaps Law asked his authorities what he should do with these pedophile priests, and these Church leaders believed in the potential cure and redemption of these priests. Thus they may have advised Law to send the troubled priests to rehabilitation, confession, and then to a new parish.
I recently went to Quebec and Ireland. Both of these very Catholic countries basically threw out the Church in the last generation. The secularization of the modern world is one cause of this, but another cause is the Church’s loss of spiritual authority due to these scandals.
One of the Church’s claims to spiritual authority is that they are the one true Church and the Church’s leaders cannot err in the realm of morality and spiritual discernment.
Well, Cardinal Law and his cohorts put a dent into this belief. Most Catholics consider child abuse as one of the most serious of sins. These ordinary Catholics may have this belief:
If the Church leaders can’t even discern that it is a serious wrong to allow child abuse to happen — and they seemed to have even enabled this abuse — how much authentic spiritual authority can they have?
Many ordinary Catholics may now feel that they have better moral discernment than some of the leaders of their Church. Good-by to the absolute moral authority of the Church.
Jean-Paul deCaussade wrote that whatever happens is the best thing that could happen. Perhaps this disillusionment with the absolute moral authority of Church leaders will result in ordinary Catholics taking more responsibility for deciding what is right and what is wrong – and what is true and what is false. Perhaps these people will see the Church for what it actually is: a kingdom that is fully human and fully divine. This is opposed to seeing the Church as it’s historical public persona: a perfect institution filled with pious, morally pure priests, nuns, and other leaders.
This is not to knock the authentic spiritual authority of the Church: the spiritual leadership of one billion Catholics; the work of around a million Church leaders; and the charitable work of hundreds of millions of ordinary Catholics. This article just points out the hit that the Church took from the imperfections among some of its leaders.
Also, those Catholics who have rejected the Church, will now have to face this problem: Where shall we go? Can we go to another place that is better? Truer?
Once, while Jesus was alive and preaching, he made some outrageous remarks, and most of the crowd left his talk. Jesus then asked Peter, “Are you going to leave me too?” Peter answered, “No, where could I go?” Could he really leave being a part of a historical, spiritual revolutionary movement, and go back to fishing? Could he really leave a spiritual movement that promised forgiveness of sins, happiness, divine love, and eternal life?
In the same way, where can these rejecting Catholics go? What can they now believe in? What kind of worldview can they have? And will their new choice be any better? Can they accept secularism, with its belief in the last chapter of individual existence being suffering, death, and extinction? Can they join any one of the thousands of fragmented Christian denominations? And would these be any better? Can they join another religion, and would it be any better? Would their leaders be any purer?
It seems we are all existentialists, and we have to make decisions.